Crews wage battle with invasive plant

Every day the water flows past Watson Island, at the juncture of South Seventh Street and the Colorado River, feeding its thirsty vegetation.

A cement path, stretching from the Butterfly Pavilion toward the rippling water, leads visitors to the river’s edge. But not so long ago, despite being only feet from one of the mightiest waterways on the North American continent, it would have been a strain to see the flows because of the dense growth of tamarisk, Russian olive and other non-native species of plants. Today, the efforts of volunteers can plainly be seen: an unobstructed view of the Colorado River.

“We got 11 islands (in the chain known as the Watson Island Complex, in addition to the one at South Seventh Street) and some of them we haven’t even set foot on because they are right in the middle of the river,” said John Heideman, finance director for the Tamarisk Coalition. 

The coalition, in partnership with the Riverfront Commission, the city of Grand Junction, Chevron and the Grand Junction Lions Club, is in the second year of a project to restore Watson Island and the 11 others isles between the Fifth Street Bridge and the Pedestrian Bridge near Orchard Mesa Middle School.

The effort is being undertaken in advance of an anticipated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that has the goal of eradicating tamarisk along the banks of the Colorado River from Palisade to the Utah border.

Volunteers with work gloves, shovels, tree clippers and trash bags have been busy.

Evidence of their labors is all around. Non-native trees and plants have been laid low on the west side of the island, herbicide is being applied to keep the undesirable plants away, native trees are being planted and in the coming months the tamarisk leaf eating beetle is expected to arrive.

“This is our experimental revegetation area that we are working on now,” Heideman said.
In one section of the island multiple holes were dug several feet into the ground. Native trees, a dozen feet tall, were then lowered in so they could reach fresh water in this area where soil salts are high. Tubes were then installed next to the trees to allow for fresh water to be delivered. It is an experimental technique brought to the park from the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center in New Mexico.

In another area, cut tamarisk was stacked in a pile awaiting removal on a sandy beach.

Just a few weeks ago the area was choked with tamarisk and the beach did not exist.

Also, new trails have been cut through the brush. City of Grand Junction employees ground the tamarisk into chips, which are now used to line the path.

It is a far cry from what the area looked like last year, but it still has a long way to go.

Remnants of homeless camps are still a common find. Almost as common is to find an old car part, left over from when the island was a junk yard.

“It has the potential of being one of the most beautiful city parks in the system,” Heideman said. “It could be equally as nice as the Riverbend Park in Palisade.”


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